Taxpayers count cost as showcase for 'Cool Germania' goes way of the Dome

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The Independent Online

Germany no longer laughs at the hype and hubris surrounding London's millennial folly. After a disastrous start, the world exhibition in Hanover looks set to eclipse the Dome in entertainment value, though German taxpayers are unlikely to be amused.

Germany no longer laughs at the hype and hubris surrounding London's millennial folly. After a disastrous start, the world exhibition in Hanover looks set to eclipse the Dome in entertainment value, though German taxpayers are unlikely to be amused.

DM3.5bn (£1.1bn) has been spent on a project conceived before unification and designed to put Hanover on the tourist map. An area the size of Monaco has been filled with architecture ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous but the tourists are not coming: on Sunday 16,000 people went through the turnstiles.

Expo's organisers had reckoned on an average 260,000 paying guests per day, which would have kept the losses of the five-month event below DM400m.

The panic button has been pressed - 523 employees on short-term contracts were laid off yesterday. Another 4,000 souvenir-sellers and temporary workers can be fired at will but the rest of a total of 20,000 will be harder to shed. The organisers are resisting calls for a cut in the entrance fee, saying it would be bad PR. They are coy about precise figures and cost projections.

The plans had foreseen 40 million visitors. If only 30 million come, the taxpayer will have to pick up a DM1bn bill. Below those numbers the costs become horrendous. The only published market research survey, done by a tourist company, says Hanover can expect 14 million people. Expo received rave press reviews but only now, confronted with the public response, are papers revising their opinions, with the word "boring" at last creeping into their columns.

There had been hitches, especially when the US forwent the privilege of a pavilion, but the media ignored them. Expo was an important national project, to show Cool Germania to the world. The public was spared any negative vibes.

But the truth is emerging: there is a lot to see at the Expo though little to do. Not enough, at any rate, to make people reach so deep into their pockets. For the DM69 the tickets cost a head, Germans can buy some fun, and they don't have to go all the way to Hanover.

So it will be a long hot summer for the politicians who underwrote this white elephant, especially Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, former regional prime minister in Hanover and for long the Expo's most prominent lobbyist.

But some critics have been silenced. Their prediction that Hanover would be paralysed by Expo-generated traffic jams is unlikely to be fulfilled.

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